News is no longer consumed solely through word of mouth and newspapers. It is everywhere in this modern technology-driven age: Instagram feeds, the TV, notification pop-ups on phones, podcasts, and seemingly endless articles of different journalists’ perspectives on the same horrific occurrences.
Simply put, the constant exposure to news is overwhelming. While it is undeniable that remaining informed on major news events around the world is a vital component of being an educated, productive member of society, mental health must come first. There will always be another disaster to read, watch, or hear about. But sometimes, taking a break from the never-ending news cycle is actually the smartest option.
Due to the convenience of smartphones as time progresses, journalism has grown increasingly dependent on user-generated images and videos. This coverage can incite especially negative or fear-based reactions from consumers.
A 2013 study published after the Boston Marathon bombings investigated the psychological impact of media coverage of traumatic events. Scientists compared the acute stress levels in individuals who witnessed the bombings firsthand versus the consumers of news covering the attack and discovered that those who repeatedly consumed the media coverage also had higher levels of acute stress. The ways in which negative news can affect consumers varies from person to person, but as news reporting evolves, most scientists are in agreement that frequent exposure to news has adverse effects on happiness.
So, how is it possible to take a break when news is everywhere? Here are five ways to remain informed while being mindful of mental health.
1. Seek out coverage of positive news.
While frightening new events tend to gain the most traction in the media and often dominate consumers’ consciences, journalists also report on positive stories. It may be harder to seek them out, but they do exist and are worth attention.
2. Limit time spent watching news broadcasting on television.
Television news broadcasting, more so than other forms of news reporting, run the most attention-capturing headlines, which can often lead to “disaster reporting.” While watching news on TV, the level of exposure to negativity can trigger reactions such as fight or flight in the brain and body.
3. Consume news solely from reputable publications.
Reading fake news, news intended to overdramatize or fearmonger, or news with inaccurate information will only exacerbate negative impacts of consuming news. Identify a range of publications with fact-checked information and trustworthy reporting.
4. Stay grounded in reality.
Consuming large-scale news outside your own life and community can be disorienting, and feel as though others’ lives are intertwined with yours. Associating too closely with others’ lives can be harmful. Yes, empathy is vital, but external disasters covered in the news should not be confused with impending doom in one’s own life.
5. Take a mental state assessment before deciding to watch, read, or listen to the news.
A quick mental check-in before engaging with news coverage is immensely helpful when deciding whether the time is right to consume news. In times of stress, sadness, or discomfort, opting not to engage with news is the better option.
Education and awareness of the news are invaluable. But mental health must come first because the news can wait—and one’s well-being cannot.